Last summer we were kayaking near Tybee Island, Georgia, when someone who was strapped into what looked like a parachute and wearing what looked like a motor on his back flew over us. Kevin immediately said, “I want to do that.” A quick Google search later, we discovered that “that” was called paramotoring.
Fast forward to just a few months ago when we started planning this trip and Kevin said, “How do you feel about spending a week in Pensacola, Florida?” Suzanne said, “Sure.” Kevin said, “Great, because I want to take a paramotoring class.” He had already done his research and decided that Robert, owner of Fly High Paramotors in Pensacola Beach, was who he was going to trust to teach him how to fly.
We arrived in Pensacola on Sunday, March 27, after a very rainy day of driving from St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and settled in at Big Lagoon State Park. And by “settle in” we mean that we set out our awesome welcome sign that our friend Angela made for us, and we hung up the red solo cup lights that were a gift from our friends Jessica and Mike. We are definitely showing our fellow campers how it should be done.
A reservation at Big Lagoon State Park was the closest we could get to Kevin’s class, but it was still a good 45-minute drive each way. The class was from 9:00am – 5:00pm for seven days, so we rented a car for the first part of the week (so Suzanne wouldn’t be stranded at the campground all day) until we were able to grab someone else’s last minute cancellation at Fort Pickens Campground, which was just up the beach from where Kevin needed to be. On a few days we actually brought The Bullet right out to the beach where Kevin’s class was being held.
Suzanne was working all week while Kevin was flying and she thinks this may be one of the best home office views she has ever had:
Kevin’s class started on Monday. Robert, the instructor, limits his classes to two students at a time to make sure everyone gets the attention they need. The only other student in the class was Dennis, who had traveled from New Jersey specifically to train with Robert.
They spent the first part of the week “kiting”, so they could learn how to control the wing (apparently it’s not called a parachute, it’s called a wing). Robert puts a lot of emphasis on safety (thank you, Robert!) so he wants to make sure his students are really proficient at controlling the wing before he even thinks about letting them fly. They kited all day every day for a few days, gradually moving from a small wing, to a medium size wing, to the actual wing they would use when flying.
In addition to kiting, they also learned how to read air space maps so they would know where they were allowed to fly and not fly. In Pensacola, especially, you want to make sure you don’t get in the way of the Blue Angels while they are out practicing. That could be bad. They learned all about the motor they would be wearing, they practiced kiting while wearing the motor, and they also sat and watched the wind. A lot. Ideal conditions for learning how to fly are winds of less than 10 mph, and there were one or two really gusty afternoons that kept them out of the sky.
On Saturday morning, however, the winds cooperated and Kevin put together everything he had learned that week and took flight for the first time. He describes it as, “A little nerve-wracking…a lot of adrenaline…exhilarating…it’s very freeing.”
When he flew again on Monday, Suzanne was able to get a few videos: take off, mid-flight, landing. Here is his perfect take off:
Here he is mid-flight over the water:
And here is his perfect landing:
Suzanne’s favorite part was when he flew over The Bullet:
Kevin definitely picked the right instructor and the training location could not have been more beautiful. I have a feeling we may come back through Pensacola on our way home later this year so Kevin can fly with Robert again. And if, after watching Kevin’s videos, you found yourself saying, “I want to do that!”, we highly recommend taking a trip to Pensacola to learn how to fly with Robert and Fly High Paramotors.
Even though they didn’t fly, Suzanne and Noah had a great week in Pensacola too. On the days that we had The Bullet parked at the beach, we were parked about 6 inches from a paved bike path that runs the length of the Pensacola Beach peninsula, so when she wasn’t working or watching Kevin train, Suzanne got out for a few really great rides on her bike. It was a big decision at the beginning of the trip whether to bring her road bike or her more functional city bike, and at this point in the trip it is clear that the road bike was the right choice. We are finding more bike-friendly cities than anticipated.
Noah’s favorite part of Pensacola was the beach. He loved wandering up and down the beach off-leash and then taking a break in the soft white sand. If you follow us on the Retired Retrievers Facebook page then you may have already seen this, but here is a postcard Noah made and asked us to share with all of you. We’ll see you on down the road!
Additional photos from our time in Pensacola and the surrounding area: